They have teamed up with Genzyme, a Sanofi company, to focus on identifying therapeutic candidates capable of promoting remyelination and reducing neurodegeneration - primarily in relation to multiple sclerosis (MS).
The University explained: "MS is caused by damage to myelin, the protective layer that surrounds nerve fibres. This damage affects the transmission of electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body and results in symptoms such as problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. Over time MS patients accrue disability, which usually slowly gets worse - this is related to neurodegeneration.
"A natural process called 'remyelination' can repair damaged myelin and restore nerve function. In MS, however, remyelination is inefficient."
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh say they have discovered a physiologically-occurring molecule that prevents the cells needed to help repair damaged myelin from reaching the area of damage, which limits remyelination.
By working with Genzyme, co-investigators Dr Anna Williams, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Dr Scott Webster say they hope to identify inhibitors of this molecule (or its receptor) to prevent this block and encourage the cells capable of repairing myelin into the area of damage.
Dr. Williams said: "If successful, this will be a step-change in MS treatment as current treatments are unable to repair the damaged neurons that cause the symptoms of MS.
"Ultimately this could reduce neurodegeneration in MS and the accumulation of disability in patients. This treatment could also be used in other diseases where myelin is damaged, such as spinal cord injury."
Dr. Johanne Kaplan, vice president of Neuroimmunology Research at Genzyme, said: "We are very much looking forward to a productive collaboration with Drs. Williams and Webster based on our combined expertise in remyelination and drug discovery and development. Remyelination-promoting therapies remain an unmet need and would be of great benefit to MS patients".
The collaboration has been facilitated by Edinburgh BioQuarter's Business Development team.